Playtonic Games have created a faithful Banjo-Kazooie spiritual sequek that’s poised to impress fans and newcomers alike.
One of my bigger gaming regrets is missing out on the Banjo-Kazooie games. Before I fell in love with shooters, I adored side-scrolling platformers. In fact, Donkey Kong Land on the Game Boy was the first game I ever 100-percented. So I was particularly eager to take Yooka-Laylee for a spin when I learnt that it’s both a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, and that some former Donkey Kong Country (Land was the handheld spin-off of Country) devs are involved.
As soon as you get into the gameplay of Yooka-Laylee, it shows, too. Like with Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee refers to two titular characters: Yooka is a fairly chilled chameleon, and Laylee is a wise-cracking bat. Their colourful designs, behaviours and basic gameplay functions match those of Banjo and Kazooie (at least, as far as my research suggests), but are obviously distinct enough that nobody at Playtonic Games is getting sued for copyright infringement.
Everything about the art style screams “kids game!”, from larger-than-life NPCs to the brightly coloured environments. But there’s a clever undercurrent of crass humour that’s targeted at older gamers. Clearly the G rating from the Classification Board meant they missed the one about a Trowzer snake… or, rather, a character called Trowzer who also happens to be a snake.
This sort of sneaky adult-targeted humour crops up throughout the game but, from what I played, it’s the kind of stuff that’s deliberately written to float over the heads of young-uns. The main downside of Yooka-Laylee from what I played is how the dialogue is presented. Characters make grating repetitive grunts in lieu of dialogue, and while you can skip through most of the sounds and just read what they’re saying, there were certain sections where skipping the dialogue wasn’t an option and the yammering gets real old, real fast. Fingers crossed that’s fixed in the final version.
Outside of that gripe, I had a ball. In terms of core gameplay, there’s a big emphasis on platforming. Combat is pretty straightforward against basic grunts who fall to a single spinning slap from Yooka’s tail. What you’ll find yourself doing a lot of, though, is getting caught up in the gameplay loop of collecting Quills and Pagies.
Quills are in abundance, which is great because you need 30 of each to unlock the earlier set of new moves, which then jumps up to 40 Quills per new ability (and possibly gets more costly beyond that, too). The great thing about collecting the Quills to unlock new moves is these learnt tricks tie into the clever Metroidvania of Yooka-Laylee. It costs a handful of rarer Pagies to open up a new world, of which there are five.
That might not sound like a whole lot, but the two worlds I played on were far from tiny, and there’s plenty to do. As you unlock more new moves, you can do more stuff in the worlds, too. For instance, there’s a Buddy Slam move that let me solve a particular puzzle, and the Sonar Shot that solidified otherwise invisible (and thus unusable) moving platforms. On top of this, Pagies can also be spent on expanding existing worlds with new sections. It’s up to you in which order you unlock worlds and/or additional sections, too (except for the first core world unlock, obviously).
Completionists are going to have a field day with the number of collectables in each world which, I’m told, includes 25 Pagies, 200 Quills, five Ghost Writers, and one apiece of Mollycools, Butterfly Boosters, Power Extenders, and a Play Coin. Those Play Coins are used to play on in-game arcade machines. The one I played in the first world was a top-down old-school racing game that can reportedly be played with up to four players, but was still a hoot to play alone (especially when you accidentally roll over a debuff item that temporarily reverses your controls). It reminded me a lot of the old-school Super Off Road, and in no way was that a bad thing.
For those eager to experience more racing mini-games, I also played a Yooka-Laylee race where I had to collect butterflies to keep my meter full and stay ahead of a speedy cloud called Nimble. There was also a Donkey Kong Country-inspired minecart section that was less about speed and more about collecting items along the way (complete with jump and forward-facing attack ability). Suffice it to say, with so much to do, my 90-minute hands-on time with the start of the game sped by.
I’m more excited about Yooka-Laylee now that I’ve played it, and I finally understand the appeal of what I missed out on with the Banjo-Kazooie games. If you’re a fan of Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is a no-brainer, but for players like me who never played those games, there’s still a lot of appeal in Playtonics’ colourful action-platformer.